Reality Check: Energy Powers That Be
The world must face a glaring fact: Demand for energy is growing, and countries need to expand their energy sources if they want to keep up. The Obama administration made a commitment to clean energy. But here's a source-by-source look at nine types of energy that could change the landscape in
Claim: Global demand for oil has reached its peak.
Reality: According to the
With demand growing, the concept of "peak oil"--the theory that the world's supply of accessible oil will reach a high point and then begin to decline--has many people worried and uncertain about oil's prospects. According to
Claim: Carbon capture and storage technologies will make coal a nearly zero-emissions energy source.
Reality: Coal-fired power plants add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than any other energy source in
Claim: Natural gas can replace gasoline for use in vehicles.
Reality: This idea, most recently promoted by businessman
Efficient natural gas vehicles have been around since the 1990s, so the problem is not the technology but rather the availability of fueling stations and the manufacture of cars. With few people driving natural gas vehicles, fueling stations are less eager to carry natural gas, but nobody wants to drive one if there's no place to fill the tank. Pickens, backed by Democratic Sen.
Claim: The cost of solar energy in America will be on par with traditional energy sources by 2015.
Reality: Though the solar industry has expanded almost 35 percent over the past five years and the past two years have seen nearly a 50 percent drop in the price of solar photovoltaics, the cost still raises doubts about the industry's ability to widely penetrate the power market. Nevertheless, the
Even if the long-term costs of solar energy drop, the upfront expenses, such as installation in the home, create an unlevel playing field to compete with oil and coal, which carry no upfront investment for the consumer, says
Claim: Wind energy could generate 20 percent of the power needed in
Reality: As of December, wind accounted for only 1.9 percent of the country's energy consumption. Yet in
The good news for wind power is that the rates of installation are already higher than had been predicted, and
Reality: As of last May, power from nuclear fission accounted for 19.4 percent of the nation's total energy, according to the
Obama recently committed
Claim: There will be a functioning nuclear fusion plant by 2020.
Reality: Fusion technology, which will essentially harness the same type of energy found in stars by fusing the nuclei of two atoms, is still in development. Scientists have already conducted fusion reactions; they just require more energy to produce than they currently emit. A number of research groups around the world are working to develop the would-be revolutionary technology that could power whole cities using hydrogen from water, an unlimited source without harmful chemical emissions.
The National Ignition Facility at the
Claim: Fuel cell vehicles are the future of transportation.
Reality: In 2003,
The problem with hydrogen fuel cell technology is that hydrogen, while one of the most common elements on Earth, does not exist alone in nature. The majority of hydrogen is now derived from natural gas, the rest from water. Yet the process of obtaining hydrogen, an energy carrier rather than a source, requires significant energy input itself, and a more efficient production process will be necessary to reduce both costs and environmental effects. In addition, though prototypes of hydrogen-powered autos such as Chevrolet's Equinox have performed successfully, issues with storing and distributing hydrogen pose problems for the widespread use of the technology.
Claim: Wave power from America's shores can fill up to 6.5 percent of national energy demand.
Reality: Wave power was officially redefined as a renewable energy source in 2005, but prior to that, the technology's funding took second place to more popular energy sources, like wind and solar. Since 2005, with somewhat more money heading in its direction, the wave power industry has moved forward. However, wave power technologies are still in the research stage, and no commercial-scale wave energy project exists in the country (story, Page 50).
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Reality Check: Energy Powers That Be | Jessica Rettig
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